The debate in Congress over mandated paid leave intensified on May 18, 2009, when Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., introduced the Healthy Families Act (H.R. 2460). The legislation would require businesses to provide employees seven days of paid sick leave.
“Every worker should have paid sick days; it is a matter of right and wrong. Being a working parent should not mean choosing between your job, taking care of yourself, and taking care of your family,” said DeLauro in a written statement. “With the H1N1 outbreak, countless public health officials urged people to follow a simple guideline: If you get sick, stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them. Yet for many Americans, following this sound advice is impossible.”
DeLauro claims that nearly half of private sector workers, or nearly 57 million people, do not have paid sick leave benefits.
“These workers put their jobs on the line every time they take a day off,” she stated.
The bill introduced by DeLauro is similar to a proposal she sponsored in March 2007 (H.R. 1542). The legislation faced stiff opposition from Republicans and stalled in the House and Senate. At the time, President George W. Bush threatened to veto the bill if enacted by Congress.
However, the reintroduced legislation, which has 101 co-sponsors in the House, could gain traction, according to several sources familiar with the issue. President Barack Obama has stated that he supports the proposal and would sign the bill. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., was expected to introduce a Senate version of the bill soon, sources say.
The legislation as introduced by DeLauro would require employers with 15 or more employees to provide up to seven days of paid sick leave. The new bill differs from the 2007 legislation by guaranteeing workers one hour of paid leave for each 30 hours worked. The proposal would allow employees to accrue up to 56 hours of leave or seven paid sick days per year. Workers would able to take the sick days when they or immediate family members became ill.
Other differences include a new provision that would allow victims of domestic violence to use paid leave for reasons such as court appearances and counseling. The legislation states that employees would not be entitled to “reimbursement” for unused paid sick leave when ending their employment.
Employer groups voiced their opposition to H.R. 2460, claiming that the bill could further hurt employers that are struggling to survive in a rocky economic climate.
“Congress could not pick a worse time to impose untested and costly new mandates on U.S. employers,” said Lisa Horn, chair of the National Coalition to Protect Family Leave (NCPFL) and an employee of the Society for Human Resource Management’s Government Affairs Department. “Thousands of American companies are already struggling to avoid layoffs, meet payroll and maintain benefits during the gravest economic crisis since the Great Depression. The costs associated with this mandate will force companies to increase layoffs, reduce wages and cut important employee benefits.”
The coalition claims that the measure is unnecessary because statistics from the U.S. Labor Department show that more than 80 percent of employers offer some form of paid sick leave.
SHRM, which is a member of the NCPFL, is urging Congress to change the debate on paid leave and to develop policies that support workplace flexibility rather than adopt a federal mandate for paid sick leave. “We believe that employers should be encouraged to offer paid leave as part of every full-time employee’s benefit plans—but we oppose an inflexible, one-size-fits-all government mandate,” said Lon O’Neil, SHRM president and CEO. “Our goal is to seek legislation that will encourage paid leave but not discourage the creation of quality new jobs.”
Worker and family advocacy groups, however, applauded DeLauro’s proposal, saying paid sick leave is needed to ensure that workers have employment security and a healthy workplace.
“If Congress passes this bill, millions of workers will no longer have to choose between a paycheck and recovery when they get sick or a family member needs care,” said Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families. “We just had a stark reminder of the importance of paid sick days when the flu pandemic hit and President Obama urged workers to stay home if they were sick and keep sick children at home. For millions of workers, taking that simple step to recover more quickly and avoid the spread of contagion means losing pay and possibly losing their jobs.”
Bill Leonard is senior writer for SHRM Online.
Workplace Flexibility Report Adds to National Debate, HR News, May 14, 2009
SHRM Seeks to Change Debate on Paid-Leave Policies, Inside SHRM, May 11, 2009